F, out on DVD this week, is a brilliant, and very nasty, British horror film about put-upon teacher Anderson (veteran character actor David Schofield) menaced by faceless, murderous teens as night sets in in the near-empty school.
Atmospheric, disturbing and boasting a sucker-punch ending, Pete Cashmore thinks it’s a minor horror classic, and spoke to director Johannes Roberts
Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the film, the original idea and how it flourished?
JR: I was doing some lecturing to pay the bills and I came across the location that I shot F in and I knew I had to make a film there. I wrote the movie to be made on no money because no one was giving me any! The story is at heart a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 which has always been one of my favourite films.
People may well end up erroneously comparing it to films like Eden Lake, so-called “hoodie horror” that capitalised on prevalent moral panic in the UK
I get a lot of that. I thought whilst Eden Lake was well made I found it an empty film. F was really influenced by Asian cinema like Ringu and The Grudge. They were doing such interesting things and using such interesting techniques which I found really genuinely disturbing at a real core level. I tried to draw on that. I think this hoodie horror thing is just a media label really.
What I love about your “evil teens” is their incredible malevolence despite the fact that their faces remain swathed in scarves throughout. How long did you work on styling them in that way?
I was still working on the design of the kids, right up until the day of filming. I think you can definitely look to a film like [French horror film] Ils as a direct influence on their look but actually I think it goes back much further – even since I was a kid I loved and was fascinated by the Ringwraiths in Lord Of The Rings and I think they actually draw a lot from that. However I sound much more intellectual if I say it’s a comment on the tabloid hoodie hysteria that they are quite literally “faceless” so I might start saying that instead!
They are also, in a strange way, very graceful and gymnastic
As I said before I was really influenced by Asian cinema. The movement of the ghosts in those movies is terrifying. It was only a day before filming that the first AD called me to tell me he was in town and was looking at these kids literally jumping up into the air. He said he didn’t know why I would want to see them but he thought he would tell me anyhow. I got them to come in and saw what they could do and it just clicked – they are just a couple of 16 year old kids doing their A levels in Cambridge. We didn’t even pay them (sorry guys!). I actually had to work with them a lot to try and make their movements less polished because it looked like the school was being attacked by the Soviet gymnastics team!
Anderson, the lead character, is a fascinating hero because he’s a cowed, broken man who is palpably crapping himself the whole time
I loved the idea of placing this man out of time in this situation. I guess it’s very John Carpenter/western. I find the ending strangely uplifting, even though it is equally horrible. I find it very emotional. The film is about a father’s love for his daughter and how far he will go for it. I get so sick with going into movies where you know before the movie starts that no one will make it out alive. It feels to me that they are nasty for the sake of it.
Some of the death scenes are horrible to watch – no heroic last stands or sudden flashing blades, just people’s horrible realisation that they are going to die.
The death scenes are interesting. You see a lot of the aftermath but never the actual death. This again is very much influenced by Asian ghost stories – I find it very disturbing to see what has happened to someone but not see it happening. Your imagination then fills in the gaps and it’s not pleasant. One of the only deaths in the film that is very full-on is the bin sequence. I find tonally that it sticks out a bit. I even pondered cutting it out. It’s very ‘real’. It’s really horrible.
Were there other alternative endings explored? A happy ending, perhaps?
I LOVE the ending. I know a lot of people really dislike it and feel that the film ends too soon but it is by far my favourite moment of the film. It’s bleak but not needlessly nasty. I hate horror movies that kill everyone at the end just for the sake of being nasty. I did try many different endings. Anderson chasing the kids down and killing them was one. Showing who the children were at the end was another but I just felt they had nothing to do with emotional themes of the movie.
We only came up with the ending very late in the day. I remember chatting to one of the producers and just saying that I didn’t feel that the film had the right ending and we just kicked it around. We asked ourselves: what is the worst thing that can happen to our character? I wanted him to have to make a true decision. In a movie when the lead character has to decide whether to go into a burning building / spaceship in order to save the person he loves or not… that’s not a real decision. We know our hero will rescue them. I wanted the film to lead to this real decision. I love the ending but I know it will divide people.